Empathy

I have been volunteering with a hospice organization. At first, I was not sure what I should say when sitting by the bedside of someone who is leaving this earthly realm very soon. After weeks of trying to convince myself that I had something of value that I could give to the hospice residents, I came across this poem by Susan Frybort. It helped me realize that my presence, silently sitting and listening could be what I might offer. This could be a soothing salve.

I hope when I take my last breath, someone is sitting beside me. Not with words of wisdom that might make my departure easier. That would be too heavy a burden to ask of anyone. But rather, their attentiveness. Just their being.

Empathy – spoken poetry

EMPATHY

by Susan Frybort

Today I woke feeling my ordinariness next to me.

I never wrote a masterpiece, painted a perfect landscape
or played an etude.
I cannot beat the African healing drum like a shaman
to intercede between the realms.
I don’t know how to touch people to resolve them of all their inner conflict or traumas.
I never looked into a crystal and saw the divine…
I’m not a psychologist,
a therapist, a counselor or a saint.
And Das is not part of my name,
my name is ordinary.
As I thought about how the opportunity to tend to a painful wound
as if it were an injured plant
or delicately administer soothing salve to another earthly soul
would not be mine because I do not possess the official requirements,
I felt a particular sadness,
as though I were, somehow, not enough.

Then suddenly I remembered everything is well within me.

For I know that all my certainties
and all that has ever been established before me
are in sacred correspondence.
I know about the stars and how they gather as constellations
to guide the wanderer through all the eras.
I know of the bamboo that will not flower until many years pass by
and how the blossom gives its life as nourishment and protection
so that the tiny seedling within may push forward and grow.
I know there are mysteries not fully understood.
I know each life holds a unique path,
eventually drawing to an end for all.

And when I sat at the bedside of an elderly woman dying,
or on my knees next to a fading animal struggling for her last breaths
after a long earthly journey,
there was no difference in my attentiveness.
I felt equal compassion for both,
then wept the same mournful tears.

And I know for certain that when I look into another human being,
whether they have eyes to see or not,
I can behold them.

I can view the hurt in them and feel the wounds in me.
It is a pain that agonizes quietly inside
as we share it…
So I reach out to comfort them.
These are the opportunities to extend
and touch another soul with all that is in me now.

And that is good enough for me.

Blessing for Coming Home to an Empty House

I realized that I had not posted much lately. I am in the homerun stretch of graduating from the apprenticeship program at The Guild for Spiritual Guidance, which has carried me through the last two years in community and love. After this Sunday, I will be a graduate and will dive deep into my writing and sharing with you here in this space. I very much look forward to posting more.

In the meantime, I came across this poem by Jan Richardson. I hope it brings you comfort.

Blessing for Coming Home to an Empty House

I know
how every time you return,
you call out
in greeting
to the one
who is not there;
how you lift your voice
not in habit
but in honor
of the absence
so fierce
it has become
its own force.

I know
how the hollow
of the house
echoes in your chest,
how the emptiness
you enter
matches the ache
you carry with you
always.

I know
there are days
when the only thing
more brave than leaving
this house
is coming back to it.

So on those days,
may there be a door
in the emptiness
through which a welcome
waits for you.

On those days,
may you be surprised
by the grace
that gathers itself
within this space.

On those days,
may the delight
that made a home here
find its way to you again,
not merely in memory
but in hope,

so that every word
ever spoken in kindness
circles back to meet you;

so that you may hear
what still sings to you
within these walls;

so that you may know
the love
that dreams with you here
when finally
you give yourself
to rest—

the love
that rises with you,
stubborn like the dawn
that never fails
to come.

—Jan Richardson

Bare

This feeling of grief after a loss, I feel is a sacred time. I have vowed to let myself feel the depths of this pain. To sink down into the wisdom of this darkness. It is an ebb and flow of dark and light. And what we bring back into the world can be a healing balm, a calm acceptance, a way of walking gently on the Earth and loving this transitory life.


“No, it’s not emptiness that is felt now that you are gone from this world. What is felt is the fullness of your absence. A space laid bare, pregnant with the light of your humor,

The light of your love,

The light of your soft breath,

Your light,

You,

Light.”

Photo by Olya Kobruseva on Pexels.com

What I Wish I Could Say

I wrote the following journal entry in January of 2020 a few days after my dog Lola died, and a couple of months before the pandemic hit. I was struggling under the heaviness of new grief, trying to find a way to get through the days without crying. I would find myself numb, distracted, staring at nothing while at work. Nights were worse.

I never wanted to numb my grief. I wanted to sink into it. And I still do, when it emerges. Slowly the sharp pain I felt in my heart eased and came less often.

Perhaps that was the gift of Lola’s life: To tear my heart so wide open that the compassion and love that poured out carved a new trajectory for my life.

I have lost more loved ones, human and animal since then. My other dog, Dickens, among them. I try to meet these losses with a strength of Spirit that I did not feel before.

Sometimes I read this letter I wrote to Lola and it gives me comfort. I hope she can hear it where she is.


Lola

I cannot yet clean the patches of dirt off of the walls where you used to sleep or put your food bowl out into the garage. Your collar lies next to your ashes on the credenza. I wish I had known how much you meant to me when you were here. If only I could go back to that day when I saw you, an abandoned puppy awaiting adoption at the pet supply store. I would spend every day for the next 11 years making sure you knew how much I loved you, instead of being distracted by my ego-centric pursuits, all so trivial, now I know.

We had so much fun hiking in the mountains, or driving to the park, or swimming in the lake on the weekends, didn’t we? Do you remember that time you startled an elk? Or that time when you realized our home was going to be Dickens’ forever home, too? Or that first time I had to pick you up and put you into the back of the car because you could no longer jump? Do you remember? Can you still remember?

Or are you running in mountain meadows now, chasing elk and squirrels and butterflies? A green meadow with clean air and blue skies, where your labored last breaths are forgotten? But you still remember our walks and weekend treks and playing catch and how Dickens would always get the ball out of your snout, don’t you? You will remember us, won’t you? You will remember to greet Dickens when her time comes? And when I finally come? Won’t you, Lola?

It is said that with the loss of someone you love, there comes a feeling of emptiness. What I feel is not emptiness. What I feel is a presence, a fullness of your absence at home. I feel the fullness of the presence of your absence. It is heavy and it clings to me.

I know with time this fullness will diminish, and I will smile when I think of our days together, Lola. And on my last day, I will wait. As I hope you will be waiting somewhere, wherever it is that we go when our last, labored breaths are forgotten.

Perennial

Perhaps the greatest gift
is to die a little each day.

To love what death can touch.

The losses innumerable
on this world

where grief is

perennial.

And gratitude,

for the fleeting beauty
of life is its twin,

born from the same mother
called love.


I have been thinking of the 12th Century poem a lot and the transitory nature of life. I wrote the short poem above in the early morning hours which was inspired by these thoughts.

The Gift

To live in this world of mundane chores; to live when the wash still needs washing, the plant still needs watering, the cat still needs to be fed. To live still, and my friend is gone away to whatever awaits us all.

You, who will live in our future, will never know her. Nor will you know anyone whom I know or even that we had existed. Not as individuals at least.

There is impermanence everywhere in this reality, whether a flower or a family member. It is omnipresent. It is life itself. There is something that the death of my friend, my favorite dog, my mother, and my neighbor’s oak tree has taught me. It is that to truly appreciate life on this Earth, we must also hold within ourselves its coming death.

We should love this Earth and everything on it with the passion and urgency of one who sees the end.

If we live in the embrace of knowing that someday at a time in which we have no clue or control, this tree, this friend, this fractal of divine light will extinguish, perhaps we would better understand the depth of the gift. I do not mean to intellectually understand that death is coming. Of course, in those moments when we allow our minds to stumble upon the thought, we comprehend that death is a real thing. But usually, the thought is banished from our minds, and we live as if the gifts on this Earth will never be depleted. However, something even deeper is missing in this mental void of ours. We are missing the miracle in the mundane.

Perhaps had we understood all of this, as the indigenous and our ancient ancestors had understood it, things would have turned out different for the natural world and for you, who must learn to live in the wake of our lives.